Women's Basketball: Anteaters ready to take their shot(s)

When you have the kind of year the UC Irvine women's basketball team did last season, looking back is hardly advisable. But when it comes to envisioning a brighter future, second-year coach Doug Oliver also doesn't want his players looking over their shoulders.

So, Oliver has effectively issued a universal green light to bombard the basket with shots this season, hoping to improve upon a woeful offensive output in 2012-13, when the Anteaters were 9-21, 5-13 in the Big West Conference and failed to qualify for the eight-team Big West Conference tournament that began in their own arena.

"I made a mistake last year," said Oliver, whose team finished ninth in the then-10-team Big West in scoring (53.9 per game), field-goal percentage (34.1%), assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. "I allowed us to settle into being a half-court basketball team both offensively and defensively. And when you struggle offensively, it puts way too much pressure on every possession. This year, for the most part we're spacing the floor and if someone is open, they shoot it. One of our philosophies is: When in doubt, shoot. And always be in doubt."

There is little doubt the 2013-14 Anteaters boast one of the most experienced rosters in recent memory. Among the seven seniors is 6-foot-1 forward Camille Buckley, who earned second-team all-conference recognition last season when she averaged a team-leading 11.4 points and 9.9 rebounds, the latter tops in the Big West.

Point guard Jennifer Tsurumoto, who averaged 10.1 points and led the team in assists (83) and turnovers (108), is also back for her final collegiate campaign, as is fifth-year senior Jazmyne White, who has missed nearly the last 1 1/2 seasons with a torn ACL. White, the Big West Freshman of the Year in 2010, is fully healthy and should bring productivity to the starting lineup this season, Oliver said.

Senior guard Kelly Meggs (6.8 points per game and a team-best 50 three-pointers last season), senior forward Jasmine Bernard (5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds), junior forward Methlyn Onogomuho (4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds) and sophomore forward Mokun Fajemisin (4.0 points and 3.6 rebounds) round out last season's top six scorers, all of whom return.

Buckley averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 rebounds in conference games as a junior, despite playing hurt down the stretch of her first full season of college basketball. Buckley, who began her career with an injury-shortened season at Loyola Marymount in 2009-10, before redshirting in 2010-11 and sitting out due to transfer requirements in 2011-12, played through a chipped bone in her ankle last season, Oliver said. The injury required postseason surgery, but she has recovered in time to anchor this season's squad.

White was averaging 9.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 15 games before going down for the season with the torn ACL two years ago. Last year, she played in two games, before a return was deemed unwise. She was granted a medical redshirt for last season.

"She has no soreness or swelling at any time," Oliver said of the 5-foot-9 standout, who he believes is among the best defenders in the conference. "She can guard the two, three or four [position] and she makes us improved, offensively."

The 5-6 Tsurumoto will handle the majority of the point-guard duties this season after sharing that role last season, her first at UCI after transferring from a community college.

Oliver said the 5-7 Meggs, as well as Cal State Bakersfield transfer Madison McKenney, a 5-5 junior guard who averaged 6.0 points and netted 40 three-pointers while starting 22 of 29 games at Bakersfield two seasons ago, will only be used at point guard in emergency situations. Instead, they will look to hurt opponents from beyond the three-point line as the first-option trigger wings in the new hustle-and-hoist offensive scheme.

And with outside shots flowing in transition, Oliver said his front-court players will have the freedom to use their athleticism to crash the offensive glass.

"We're undersized, so our front-court players won't be hunkering down on the block," Oliver said. "With Camille, Jazz White, Methlyn and Jasmine Bernard, we can shoot it and have them go get it. We want those kids to be moving into the paint on every shot. We're just small, so we have to play a little faster and we have to play underneath people."

Fajemisin, Onogomuho (who made the Big West All-Freshman team in 2011-12) and the 6-0 Bernard, perhaps the most talented post scorer on the team, will add to a rotation that Oliver hopes to expand to nine or 10 players.

Also expected to contribute is senior Lauren Spinazze, who has shown she can flourish in the new faster tempo, Oliver said.

Backup point guard Irene Chavez and fellow freshmen Brittany Glassow, Chloe Kellum and Jenny Dee, all forwards, will likely endure a season of development, while sophomore Raelyn Cheung-Sutton and senior Vanessa Aguilar add depth in the backcourt.

Oliver said the 5-11 Glassow, from Williamette High in Oregon, may be the most ready to contribute among the freshmen.

UCI won five of its last 10 games last season, but ended on a four-game losing streak and endured an eight-game losing skid earlier in the campaign.

The Anteaters were picked to finish eighth in the nine-team conference. Reigning champion Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is picked to repeat.

UCI, which plays host to Concordia in an exhibition game on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Bren Events Center, opens the regular season at home on Nov. 10 against South Dakota, also at 7 at the Bren.

UCI plays just two of its first 13 games at home, but will play seven of its last 11 conference games at home. The 'Eaters open conference play Jan. 9 at Long Beach State.

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